Interview from June 22, 2012
Rev. M.C. Potter
Can you imagine how confusing it would be to a young boy who knows his father loves him, is a great provider, and models all that a man should be in character, yet does not consider his father “the world’s best dad?”
My father loved his children so much, that when he had to discipline one or all five, he would make the five sit on his lap (naturally all five could not sit on the lap at the same time, but it was as if we were) and explain why the discipline and what should have been the proper behavior. Then my father would go to another room and cry.
My father would pretend like he was not hungry so there would be enough food for the children to eat. There was not enough food for the children, so for my father to go to the kitchen when the children had finished, looking to see if anything was left, but finding nothing, should have suggested, “the world’s best dad.”
Why was I so confused? Why did I think that my friends dad were more a father than mine? Why were there times in my childhood that I felt I hated my dad?
The story is simple. My dad started me off in sports when I was no more than 4 or 5 years old. Every Christmas I woke up to find a two-gun holster set, a basketball and goal and a baseball without the glove (gloves cost too much). Evenings were spent in the yard learning how to play baseball which included catching, throwing and batting. Learning to shoot the basketball followed. All the way up to my Jr. High days, my father spent time teaching the game of baseball and basketball. I can remember the many evenings he challenged me to a game of basketball, all ways beating me. He finally shared his secret. Wisdom will win more games when the odds are against you. I was strong and fast and thought I knew how to play, especially against an “old” man who smoked too much and was out of shape. How could he beat me so easily? Each time I thought I had shaked and baked and juked – he would be waiting on me at the goal and block my shot or contend in such a way as to cause me to miss the shot. He explained it this way, “I know where you are trying to go. I have some idea as to how you will try to get there. I can go with your every move and be too tired to contend or I can just let you do all the shaking and baking you want and then meets you at the goal. That way I will not get tired, but you will, and I win!” How excited I was at this nugget of wisdom. I added it to my game.
I started playing organized sports when I was 12 years old. I was good enough to play on a senior high baseball team. That is how well my father had taught me. I played right field without a glove and never missed a ball. (The coach finally persuaded my father to buy me a glove which took a whole week of food money from the family, but my father did it.)
But the bottom fell out of the relationship between me and my father. He never came to any of my games. The evening lessons stopped. I did not understand. WHERE WAS MY FATHER???
I remember when I tried out for the Jr. High Basketball team, my dad was not there. He only asked me did I make the team. He never was there when I played a game.
My High School days were no different. I played and lettered in 3 sports. football, basketball and baseball. I made the starting lineup on the varsity baseball team my 1st year. (Right field, but with a glove). My father never came to a baseball game. He did not come to a football game until the last game of my senior year. My oldest sister convinced him to come to that game, saying it was my last game and I was pretty good. That night I made defensive player of the week. I did not know he was there until I got home and he was so excited talking about the game and how well I played. He never saw me play basketball until I was playing semi-pro as an adult.
If this was not bad enough for me, my dad never talked to me about becoming a man. I was never told about girls or about the birds and the bees. I mean, how was I to know about making mistakes if mistakes were never identified? Concerning the birds and the bees, my Mom only said, “If you get her pregnant you will marry her.” Wow, what a deterrent. No explanation, no if and buts; to the point, case closed!!! I felt like a boy left alone to grow up all by himself.
The answers to the questions and frustration of the story are mind boggling.
(1) I did not understand all the concerns running rampant in my father’s life. He had just started a new church which required more time than he had to give. The interesting thing is this church was a direction from God and my father did not have a “choice”. He could have chosen to be disobedient, but the outcome would not have been good for him or the family, especially me. Why me? Unknown to me one day this church that my father was struggling with would be my life work. It would be the defining part of my life. He was struggling so that I would not have to struggle. What he must have known in these early times in my life that were so far from becoming reality, that I could not possibly see - largely because of selfishness or expectations that were not possible. My father did not have time for attending games and teaching about the birds and bees. His contribution was making sure that, if possible, I had the equipment and tools to learn sports not for life, but for a moment because he knew what was ahead for me in life. He knew the purpose of my life.
(2) The oldest child amongst the sibling was my brother. My brother was special. He was “slow” (at least that is what the old folks called it). I never heard my parents say what was wrong with my brother. It was not a part of any conversation. The only time I knew that something was wrong was when my parents enrolled my brother in a special school for children who were “slow”. Each day after school I had to ride the bus downtown to receive my brother and bring him home. You see my brother did not have the knowhow to select the right transfer bus. That meant that after-school sports were no longer possible for me. It was only when I entered high school did I not have to meet my brother downtown.
My brother never could be part of my father’s prayers or desires because of his condition. Because of this, my father made me live for my brother and for myself therefore, my father trusted me to live honestly, since I was living for two people, one of which could not live for himself.
(3) My father knew that one day I would understand why things happened as they did. He trusted that it was God’s job to grow me to that end since all of this was God’s plan. That day did not come for many years and after much hurt, disappointment and anger. But, it did come. I remember the very day. It was during an appreciation service for my father and I had been asked to deliver the appreciation sermon. It was during the preparation and delivery that I began to realize what God was doing and what part my father played. During that sermon, I watched my father cry almost the whole sermon long. Simple me, I thought he was pleased with the sermon I was preaching. He had to be pleased to cry so hard. After the service, my father explained his tears. He was crying because his prayer had been answered. That prayer was, one day I would come to understand and would not be angry anymore. That day had come! My father and I were once again friends. Matter of fact we were best of friends. I did not wait for my father to ask me to forgive him, I asked him to forgive me!!!
What did this experience do for me? It made me understand what a real father is. My definition of a father was, “meeting the needs of his children as he provided the wisdom to help them grow.” What my definition did not understand was our children do not belong to us, but are on loan to us. One day we will have to present our children back to God as they are called to their creative purpose. And, we do not have the privilege to change that purpose. Our dreams and hopes for our children give way to God’s purpose for those children.
The defining moment of fatherhood came to me when I was asked to coach a 4th grade boy’s basketball team. Remember my definition of a father was one who meets the needs of his children as he provides wisdom in helping them grow. That definition was enlarged by this request.
My immediate answer was no. I had coached for 21years and really felt that I did not want to coach anymore. And besides my son was becoming of age to where I wanted to sit back and watch him mature in sports. Like my father did me, I had trained him well. He had attended the finest camps - Arkansas (Noland Richardson), Georgetown (John Thompson) to name a few. I was then asked if I would coach the team until a coach could be found, to that I agreed.
I had this one player, who was an excellent player for his age, but every day in practice he would act up and had really become a headache. I threaten to put him off the team, but he kept acting up. I decided to make one last attempt to bring this kid into the fold. I drove him home from practice and in talking to him I discovered that the reason he was acting up was to get my attention. He did not have a father and wanted one desperately. To him I was his father and he did not want to share me with anyone so he acted up in order to have my undivided attention. This was too much and I hurried the process of finding a permanent coach. But, to my surprise on a team of 13 boys only 2 had fathers who lived in the home and one of those was my son. They all began to look to me as their father. What a challenge!!!
The definition enlarged and now covered “meeting the needs of his children as he provides wisdom for their growth and also any child that his path may cross.” It reminded me of a promise I had made to my coaches. I had promised that I would give back to the community what the community had given me. Because my dad was so busy, other men had to contribute to my growth. Some 20 years later I am still coaching. I am still helping young men grow. I AM A COMPLETE FATHER. Oh and by the way MY FATHER WAS A GREAT DAD!